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Overseas student health cover: a guide to your options in Australia

At the beginning of 2022, there were 355,627 overseas students studying in Australia. The majority came from China, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Indonesia but they shared one thing in common - the need to obtain Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) to qualify for a student visa.

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If you are an overseas student on a temporary student visa in Australia, you must maintain adequate health insurance for the duration of your stay. In practical terms, that means you need to purchase Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC), which is administered by the Department of Health and sold through a selection of private health insurance providers. It is a condition of the student visa that your policy must be up to date from the moment you enter Australia to the day you leave.

Who needs OSHC?

Overseas students or anyone on a temporary visa must have OSHC. There are a few exemptions, however. The following countries have reciprocal health insurance agreements with Australia, meaning that their citizens can instead enrol in Medicare, Australia's public health system:

  • Sweden

  • Norway

  • Belgium

  • New Zealand

In addition to students from the above nations, those from the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Netherlands and Italy can also enroll in Medicare thanks to reciprocal country agreements, but they do not benefit from an OSHC exemption.

How to get your OSHC cover

Before you begin the process of applying for the Subclass 500 Student Visa that allows you to study in Australia (valid for up to five years), you'll need to have your OSHC in place. That's because you need to enter your health insurance policy number on the application form.

Your prospective university or college may be able to help you with choosing a provider, in some cases at a preferential rate. There is no obligation to go with their recommendation, however, and there's no guarantee that their suggestion is the most competitive on price.

Quoted rates will vary, but expect a single-person OSHC policy to cost a little under $500 for 12 months, up to $4,000+ for family cover. The OSHC Deed sets out a resolution that "the cost of health insurance does not serve as a disincentive to prospective overseas students and their dependents coming to Australia to study”. What it cannot account for, however, is the cost of currency conversion. You can offset the overall cost of your health cover by accessing more competitive exchange rates through CurrencyFair than the ones offered by traditional banks.

Why are international students required to have OSHC?

Australia operates a hybrid medical care system. All permanent residents enjoy universal coverage through Medicare, which entitles them to free emergency treatment and doctor visits. More than half of Australians supplement this basic cover with some sort of private medical insurance. The implication is that higher earners should take as much of the burden off Medicare as possible through private insurance. Because of the demands on an already overstretched national healthcare system, Medicare does not extend to international students.

What does OSHC cover?

Think of OSHC as a safety net in case of emergency, rather than the key to a full suite of medical services. Coverage entitles you to the following services only:

  • Doctor visits.

  • Ambulance cover.

  • Emergency treatment.

  • Limited pharmaceuticals (up to $50 per item and $300 per year).

It doesn't cover you for ongoing medical or hospital expenses, dental and optical care, or physiotherapy. For these, you'll need to purchase supplementary private health insurance.

OSHC is for the individual only, so students with dependents will need to buy a single-parent or family policy.

What happens if I need medical treatment in Australia?

You should contact your OSHC provider before agreeing to any medical treatment. Your chosen insurer may have clauses within the policy that remove their obligation to cover any unauthorised medical costs.

You can either pay the hospital or doctor bill first and apply for reimbursement from your OSHC provider, or give the unpaid bill directly to your insurer. Make sure your cover is up to date at all times. Not only is that a requirement for a valid student visa, but you may have difficulty reclaiming any costs that occurred while you were in arrears.

Most insurers apply waiting lists for certain treatments, meaning you will have to serve a specific waiting period before attracting benefit. For example, there's a 12-month waiting period for pre-existing conditions or pregnancy-related conditions, and a two-month waiting period for pre-existing psychiatric conditions.

OSHC and Covid-19

Overseas students are covered under OSHC for Covid-19 related illnesses and vaccination, such as doctor visits and prescription medication. As of April 2022, PCR testing is free in Australia, but you can find the latest Covid-19 information on the Australian Government website.

List of OSHC providers

Only a handful of insurers offer OSHC:

Premiums vary so it's worth requesting quotes from several providers to find the best rate for your circumstances. That degree of financial prudence applies to your currency exchange needs too. If you're planning on moving to Australia to study, you may need to exchange your local currency into Australian dollars, or vice versa.

With an Australian bank account, you can use CurrencyFair to send money abroad at rates much cheaper than the banks. Our transparent fees and exchange rates end up saving you more, as seen in our comparison assessment here: ​​Money transfer companies compared: Australia.

In fact, CurrencyFair is typically eight times cheaper than the banks. You can choose to send money immediately with our quick, low-cost money transfers, or set your own rate on our peer-to-peer Marketplace, and wait for the market to meet it — meaning you could even beat the currency market rate that you see on Google.

Planning on studying abroad? Save money on your transfers to and from home with CurrencyFair's low-margin FX rates.Learn moreThis information is correct as of April 2022. This information is not to be relied on in making a decision with regard to an investment. We strongly recommend that you obtain independent financial advice before making any form of investment or significant financial transaction. This article is purely for general information purposes. Photo by Ivan Samkov.

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